Today over lunch we read the story of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. Simon is generally remembered as the guy who wanted to be able to do the same magic tricks at Peter and was rebuked in no uncertain terms! What struck me today though, was that this guy believed and was baptised. Though he clearly has some issues to work out, Simon was a Christian!
Those issues are pretty significant though: he unashamedly tries to bribe the apostles and has a pretty clear love of power. Peter describes him as full of bitterness and captive to sin. However, I noticed that while he won’t give him a share in the apostolic ministry and says his heart is not right before God, he doesn’t reject him as a Christian brother. Instead, he calls on him to repent and to throw himself on God’s mercy.
Now, Simon’s response is somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps it’s the case that he became a gnostic apostle, as some church traditions suggest. But even if this was the case, at this point in the biblical narrative, what we know is that this is a guy who believes in Jesus, who’s been baptised and who hasn’t got his life together. He’s still fascinated by magic; he’s still power hungry; he’s got issues with the way he handles money. These sound an awful lot like some of the accusations pointed at the African church!
This isn’t a story about a man who’s done the wrong thing and is now ‘out’ of the church (and isn’t it an interesting contrast with Ananias and Sapphira?) That his sin has come to light is part of God’s mercy: he now has the opportunity to repent. Woe to those of us whose sin is more subtle or whose church is too polite to call on them to repent! This is the story of a believer who’s still working out how to bring every aspect of his life under the lordship of Christ.
My prayer after reading this passage was that like Peter, we would treat those who struggle with this issues as brothers and sisters and that like Peter we could call on them to repent. It was also that God would reveal to us our blind spots and sin so that we might be called upon to repent as well.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.